By Prof. Dr. Alexander Wurzer.
In its long history since its founding in 1953, the German Design Council has supported brands within German industry in expressing their identity through design, true to the motto: »Design makes brands strong.«
The claim and mission to position and promote Germany as one of the most successful and competitive nations for design worldwide has not changed since then, but the context and conditions have. Patterns of interaction between brands and customers have changed continuously over the last years, as technological advances have enabled new user behaviours and so with them, too, new business models.
The fourth stage of the industrial revolution, digital transformation has gripped Western industrialized countries with full force, and it represents a special challenge for brand management and design as an instrument for communication. A transformation that began, in the public consciousness, with the use of desktop PCs on office desks in place of typewriters, quickly became locally networked, and in the 1980s and ‘90s changed the reality, processes and perception of work. With the establishment of the Internet, networking became global, and in the 2000s the Web was made mobile, ubiquitous and always available. Whether privately in the form of the smartphones in all our pockets or industrially as the Internet of Things, the Web is gaining ground – both public and private.
From headlights and food processors to showers, objects around us are becoming »smart«, and networking and communication continuous – no longer a conscious, mentally and cognitively controlled act.Prof. Dr. Alexander Wurzer, managing partner at WURZER & KOLLEGEN
The fundamental disruptive power of these developments can be felt in their impact on people’s professional and private lives. Above all, the enormous speed at which this technology-driven change is taking place in front of everyone’s eyes is unsettling many people, not least in their capacity as consumers, users and customers. The next foreseeable step is the disappearance of computers from our perception. Computing power and communication capability will be embedded in our environment and so will always be available. From headlights and food processors to showers, objects around us are becoming »smart«, and networking and communication continuous – no longer a conscious, mentally and cognitively controlled act. Today, we already use our mobile phones only occasionally for making calls, in comparison to all their other functions, and our children have almost forgotten that they can be used to make calls at all. Digitalisation presents a new challenge that requires companies to convincingly translate proven brand identities, stable interaction patterns and brand experiences into digital realities, and to create new worlds of experience in relation to their brand.
Although still young, the enormous dynamics of this change can also be observedat the German Innovation Awards. The award honours the innovation aspect of new products; an aspect that, in contrast to purely technological invention, also takes into account their benefits to customers and the associated business model. These new business models are often already digitally based, and future submissions are expected to become increasingly digital. Digitalisation does not stop at any branch of industry, but is implemented as soon as it is economically viable and profitable customer benefits are realised. This has a direct impact on brands, since they are closely linked to their customers’ experiences, and the analogue brand experience cannot be transferred one-to-one into digital contexts. New and creative solutions are therefore called for.
Protection of digital business models
A successful brand develops its strength from the long-term support of its customers, often over aperiod of years, resulting in repeated positive customer experiences. These brand experiences therefore may not be easily replicable by competitors, since otherwise the brand loses its uniqueness and therefore also its value. The protection of trademarks, and even more importantly of the brand identity itself, is not a new topic for successful German companies. In the analogue world, however, the focus is still often on the one-sided delivery of a fixed brand message. In the digital world, however, the focus is on interaction with the customer, a relationship that can be experienced with all the senses. It is precisely this interaction that must be repeatedly reinforced, so that the customer develops a unique connection to the brand. It is here that the challenge arises of how to protect a brand’s digital interaction with the customer, which is essentially easy to replicate, from imitation.
The great expertise of German companies in the fields of trademark, design and patent law is undisputed. However, digitalisation still poses a real challenge for many companies when it comes to protecting their creative solutions. The possibilities for protecting digital business models are not yet sufficiently understood; the use of digital brands and digital patents in Germany is therefore still in its infancy. The development of the legal situation also supports companies in protecting new digital business models. Since 14 January 2019, the protection of digital creative services, for example through multimedia brands, has also been possible in Germany, as it was before at the European level, thus opening up almost unlimited possibilities for digital applications. The new legislation therefore makes it possible for all manufacturers of products utilising screen applications to protect them from imitation, and in this way ensure their customer formative experiences remain exclusive to their own company.
Capabilities for planning digitalisation
In order to overcome the lack of awareness about the options for the protecting digital business models and brand identities in German companies, the German Design Council has decided to support a fellowship programme together with Phoenix Design, GMK Markenberatung and the Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies (CEIPI) at the University of Strasbourg. The fellowship programme’s target group is made up of outstanding graduates with at least three years practical work experience in an industrial company, agency, consulting firm or service provider in the fields of brand management, design, technology/patents or copyright management. As part of the programme, participants take the CEIPI master’s programme in Intellectual Property Law and Management, followed by a doctorate, in order to then make their knowledge directly available to companies. Networking with other doctoral students and industrial partners ensures the special quality of the programme. This not only contributes to the handling of relevant topics, but also ensures that research results can improve industry practice directly and rapidly.
The goal of the programme is to provide companies with the tools needed for the systematic and plannable protection of their digital business models. In this way, the German Design Council is actively supporting German companies in transforming their significant innovative power into a digital reality, and in taking on an active role as designers of digitalisation. We can look forward to seeing the fruits of this promotional programme soon, as convincing future submissions to the German Innovation Awards.
Dr. Alexander J. Wurzer is a managing partner at WURZER & KOLLEGEN GmbH, a consultancy for IP-based business model protection. He is an associate professor at the Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies (CEIPI) of the University of Strasbourg, where he is the director of the master’s programme in Intellectual Property Law and Management (MIPLM). Among other things, Dr. Wurzer is the ombudsman of the DIN Committee DIN 77006 for quality in IP management. He is also a member of the board of the Deutsches Institut für Erfindungswesen e.V. (DIE) (German Institute for Inventions) and the spokesman of the Dieselkuratorium, which awards the Rudolf Diesel medal every two years. Dr. Wurzer is married and has two children.
First published in the German Innovation Awards 2019 catalogue. Article picture: Source: German Design Council.